By Taylor Wilson
Note: There’s always a story behind the story, and this one is no different. I wrote the notes for this column on a Mead steno pad years ago, around the time it happened...with good intentions. Today, facing the muzzle of a blank laptop screen, I went into my desk and dug them out. It all happened on Valentine’s Day weekend 2010. Intentions were to write it as a Valentine’s Day column but time just kept slipping by. And today, I remembered the story and felt the need to write it for several reasons. Among them were to tell my wife how special I think she is, and to let our son know how fortunate he is to have such a unique person as his mom. Who knows? Maybe they will read it? (She had no idea why I took this photo of her goofing around!)
It was slim pickings around our house come Valentine’s Day. A broken pickup truck and a busted laptop were atop a long list of things that needed repair. The predicament left me cursing and calling out to heaven: “X$%&^%$#@! Why can’t I have just one thing that is not broken or about to be?”
Now God didn’t answer me, not right away, anyway. He just provided the classroom for learning; and He laughed, I am sure, knowing the answer was by my side.
With the budget well digested and dispersed amongst fixing things, we still managed enough for a Valentine’s Day family meal. And to tell the truth, I don’t even remember where we went. I do recall that with the pestering of our son, we stopped at GameStop (a video game store). BIOSHOCK was the “new” game on the horizon according to all the cardboard cut-outs scattered about the storefront window.
And a “bioshock” definitely met us when we went in the store. In short, it smelled like “poopy” (and I am being polite, here). Despite the stench, I laughed and said to my son, “Bioshock!?! I know that’s right! Somebody in here has released several doses of Bioshock!”
“Dad, you’re embarrassing me!” my kid whispered.
“Good,” I thought aloud and mentioned to him that the task goes with the job description of being a dad.
There was this teenager behind the counter dealing reality and dashing dreams. He was the one that told other kids that their old video games were not worth half of what they believed. Now, this particular employee was wearing so much jewelry in his face alone that he couldn’t make it through Memphis International. And me, still doling out wisecracks, pointed out to my son, “That may be what you have to try and look like when you choose video games as a career...”
“Dad! SHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! Be quiet!” said my irritated son.
Admittedly, at about this time I did I feel badly when I realized my poor attempts at humor and the store’s aroma was caused by an infant in need of a diaper change. Still, everyone that came in the door was greeted with The Scent. And as it turned out, a whiff of it was so far from fragrant that it could spark more than snide comments.
Next, another dad, a huge, broad-shouldered, linebacker-sized man came in with a tiny child in his shadow. And upon their entrance, the diaper scent wrapped around them, too. It proved no good combination for the younger newcomer, especially post-lunch.
BLEEECCCKKK! Bleck! That was the sound the kid spewed forth, followed by an ensuing splatter of projectile vomit.
“DUDE!” said the bejeweled and studded GameStopper from behind the counter. (I think his nose ring/chain or whatever that was, may have even rattled a little, upon the realization that dirty diapers and vomit could be twice as bioshocking as any video game.
Oh then, then and there was quite the commotion, shuffling, shifting, it was a mass Exodus for the entrance. All the while, the embarrassed, concerned and mountain of a dad scurried to comfort and likewise hustle his sick youngster toward the door.
The register jockey and his buds laughed, and I enjoyed the knowledge that they had yet to realize—one of ’em would have to clean it up.
Now being a dad, I had experienced a similarly sick kid with projectile vomiting before...once even while my then toddler was confined to a car seat in the cab of truck going somewhere close to the speed limit. It was a helpless feeling. Probably the same one this dad had—a mixture of concerned and panic. But then, I saw her, this lady with long and curly hair that I knew once flamed brighter red, before wisdom claimed some of its tint. In purpose-driven fashion, she hurried out of the store. I watched her, somewhat amazed but in a knowing way, and followed as she went to work. Beth went up to the big guy tending the puke-covered kid in the parking lot and spoke to him at a time when obviously no one else would. Then she stormed out to our mini-van and returned with a package of Wet Wipes.
“Here you go,” she said to father and son. “It’s OK, everybody gets sick now and then,” she told the little one.
“Bless you!” said the big man in a Jolly Green Giant voice. Then he dabbed his kid with a handful of Wet Wipes.
“Oh, it is nothing...it will be alright,” my wife confirmed.
And with that, a little compassion came and went in the world. A small, everyday slice of life that's easy to overlook but when noticed, always hints to me that we humans do have potential. Some of us are able to care, even when it is not comfortable to do so.
The father-son team drove away and my wife went back in the store with our son. I stayed outside, breathing fresh air, and thought about how lucky I was that Beth and I went to second grade together.
We were in Mrs. Sybil Williams room in 1970-something. Coincidentally, it’s a time that spawned another famous family Valentine’s Day story. That would be the time a second-grade me stomped up to her and shoved a Valentine’s card at her and said, “Here’s your Valentine’s Day card! My momma MADE me give you one!”
“I was heart-broken,” she later confessed, and even today admits she had quite the crush on me. (Yeah, I know...she should’ve had her vision checked way back then!)
Also, admittedly, many times afloat in those reflections, that small heartbreak is one I wish I could take back. But from it came so much good in my life. Yep, she got her card...via my mother’s orders. She became persistent has females can do, and changed my heart and way of thinking. And after many years of marriage, I have often joked that the outcome has several lessons. Among them:
1.) Never underestimate the willpower of a woman to get what she wants!
2.) Be careful what you wish for! (She is stuck with me, now.)
3.) Moms are always right. I thank God often that my mother had the good sense to make me give that little red-haired girl a card not much bigger than a postage stamp. I would give a $100 for a copy of that little card today, if I could afford it. Things are still breaking or broken ’round here. But life is good, too. Some things are unbreakable.
Yep. Lessons learned. It’s easy to curse the dark, even when we are surrounded by light.
Later, on the same day we survived bioshock, I sat alone with my son as my wife ran an errand.
“I want you to know something about your mom. Did you see anyone else in that store trying to help that sick kid and his dad?” I asked.
“No, Dad, but they smelled it and were about to throw up themselves...” my son said.
“Maybe, but I am just trying to tell you that few people will do that—step forward in a crowd and help a stranger. I want you to remember what your mom did, and I imagine what she nearly always will do. Next time, you are acting up; remember the kind of person you are dealing with...a kind, brave heart. She is quite the Valentine.”
Now, did this lesson sink in? Does my son even remember it today? Well, probably not. If at all, it is probably just the memory of some kid puking a GameStop. He was just a little older than I was when I met his mom. But maybe the lesson will resurface one day, when his hair has likewise lost some tint to wisdom. Maybe time will allow him realize how lucky we are to have her in our lives?